BY Kelly Twedell
In the middle of the night, when a call for Fayetteville Police Department's Emergency Response Team goes out, the BearCat, an armored rescue vehicle always accompanies the team. This is due to its strong capabilities and specialized equipment. On par with other cities using tactical rescue vehicles, the BearCat allows our officers to keep up with emerging threats, while saving lives.
The Fayetteville Police Department had the second BearCat vehicle in North Carolina. Since then, numerous counties in the state have opted to purchase the vehicle, including Fort Bragg. The BearCat enables law enforcement entities to perform critical response and rescue operations in a secured, highly mobile armored vehicle.
Police Chief Harold Medlock fully endorses the BearCat since he had similar vehicles in Charlotte and has tagged along when its been "in the thick of it" here in Fayetteville.
The “souped-up” Ford 550 truck has been shortened by 10 inches, giving it a tight turning radius and is equipped with the type of military spec armor designed to protect people. The vehicle comfortably fits a team of officers loaded down with their kit of equipment. Even more can ride on the outside rails, if needed.
Though the police department had an armored vehicle before the BearCat, it was ballistically inadequate and the improved version was purchased from Lenco in 2009. The $238,000 vehicle might seem expensive, but it was funded from drug forfeiture money.
Due to the size and capabilities of the tactical vehicle, many seem to view the large navy blue and black BearCat as an assault vehicle. However Lt. Michael Ruff, who commands one of the two Emergency Response Teams, explained why the apparatus is actually a rescue vehicle and has saved many lives of our uniformed police officers and victims rescued over the years.
Comparing the cost of an officer killed in the line of duty, or the medical bills from injuries sustained during operations, the BearCat has paid for itself umpteen times over. “The number of officers who have not been shot because of the vehicle is well worth the cost,” said Ruff. “Although it can be used for offensive tactics, it’s a rescue vehicle. In law enforcement they are truly used for evacuations, getting officers out of harm’s way as well as in barricades and hostage situations,” said Ruff.
Victims shot at in open fields or parking lots can be recovered without taking on more casualties. The oversize rescue vehicle is equipped with a battering ram, portholes and turrets to shoot out of, in turn allowing the officers to operate in a safe environment to accomplish their mission using less lethal options.
Most recently the BearCat used non-lethal force shooting blasts of pepper spray into a vehicle where a man under the influence of narcotics had barricaded himself and was holding a knife to his throat on U.S. 301 South. The man ended up climbing out of the truck window before he was able to harm himself and was taken into custody.
“That vehicle was perfect in that situation because I got to look at him through the window and we had first told him we wanted him to get help,” said Ruff. “When it was clear he had plans to harm himself, I called for the first round of OC-40 muzzle blast (pepper spray).” Anytime the officers use force, an internal investigation is launched as part of the policy.
Over the past year, Ruff shared that the BearCat has been used in many barricade type incidents. On occasion it is implemented for a high-risk warrant service or evacuations.
The BearCat is almost always involved in training scenarios and also stores the department’s two robots. The robots can be tossed through a window to establish two-way communications and serve as reconnaissance for the ERT before they enter a room. They are controlled by a device that closely resembles a video game controller.
The robots were instrumental in the January 2012 incident at Cape Harbor Court where a Fort Bragg soldier barricaded himself in his third floor apartment and began firing upon law enforcement officials and firemen during the four-hour standoff.
Following the explosive charge to the door by the ERT to get into the apartment, a robot was used to search for the shooter. He was found on the kitchen floor.
Keep an eye out for the BearCat, it’s often out and about downtown during festivals and outdoor events. “There’s nothing secretive about the vehicle,” shared Ruff. “The general public does not see most of the incidents it is involved in because they turn out very peacefully.”
Besides the bulletproof armor and windows, the BearCat comes equipped with a CD player and an iPod plugs into the console providing music as the ERT heads out to aid those in danger. Lt. Ruff would not be specific in sharing what tunes blare through the speakers on the way to an incident...but one can only imagine.